Recently in Reviews
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
23 Jul 2012
Hector Berlioz, Les Troyens (concert performance, BBC Proms)
Hearing The Trojans in concert at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Proms was, for me at least, a much happier experience than when it laboured under the crowd-pleasing would-be-musical-comedy served up by David McVicar’s production for the Royal Opera.
Speaking to a few members of the audience who had also attended both, I was clearly not the only person to have found conductor and soloists liberated by the concert hall. Sir Antonio Pappano’s conducting still has its problems, but he makes Berlioz sound less like Verdi than he does Wagner, and, as at Covent Garden, his reading gathered strength as it went on. Even the first act, where sometimes he appeared to think that he was conducting Aida, had stronger, more idiomatic moments. The very opening was far too fast, breathless rather than jubilant, the Trojans opening ‘Ha! Ha!’ sounding as if they were hyper-ventilating. However, the transformation of mood signalling the arrival of Cassandre was very well handled, doubtless informed by plenty of theatrical experience yet without the encumbrance of inadequate scenic presentation. The disquieting weirdness of the orchestra throughout her recitative and aria painted a thousand words. Likewise, the terrible, ominous tread of the march and choral hymn, ‘Dieux protecteurs de la ville éternelle’ - the irony of the words properly telling - was compellingly presented, far more in touch with the inheritance of Gluck’s obsequies than had previously been the case. It was a pity, then, that the ensuing Wrestlers’ Dance reverted to Verdian type. Cassandre’s aria, ‘Non, je ne verrai pas la deplorable fête’ was conducted as if Pappano had a bus to catch, but thereafter things settled down, off-stage - or rather arena - brass sounding utterly resplendent in the act finale. One might have had quibbles here and there, but save for an unfortunate lapse of tension towards the end of the fourth act - it really must be maintained here, lest the Berlioz nay-sayers have their day in court over alleged ‘longueurs’ - there was much to enjoy, not least a vividly pictorial Royal Hunt and Storm, suffused also with erotic longing.
Of course, those of us who have heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the opera will never forget the experience: a performance far more alert to Berlioz’s formal imperatives, in which never, not once, did the dramatic, Gluckian tensian sag, but sadly, it is not logistically possible for every performance one hears to emanate from the hands of the world’s greatest Berlioz interpreter. The best stomachs, to misquote Voltaire, are not necessarily those that reject all food. Pappano more often than not did a good job, considerably better than at the staged performance I saw. And the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House played magnificently throughout, even on the occasions when its direction proved a little misguided.
The major problem with a number of the sung performances remained the level not only of French pronunciation, but French style. The latter is not monolithic of course, and it is no bad thing to have preconceptions challenged, but singing Berlioz as if he were Verdi simply does not pass muster, especially if pronunciation is all over the place. (Incidentally, the lack of comment by many writers on this crucial aspect should really be a matter for concern. If English-language critics simply cannot hear when the French language is being distorted, even butchered, they should probably leave Berlioz well alone.) There was a broad spectrum, of course: two singers who again covered themselves in glory were Ed Lyon as Hylas, his song deceptively simple and touching, and Anna Caterina Antonacci as Cassandre. If there were times when the orchestra threatened to overwhelm the latter’s voice, it never did, and that struggle is surely expressive of the drama. Relieved of McVicarisms, Antonacci channelled all of her musico-dramatic energies into a searing portrayal of the doomed prophetess. Even as a little boy reading the ancient legends, Cassandra was for me a figure of empathy; here, her predicament and nobility of spirit were searingly portrayed in a performance that would have nothing whatsoever to fear from comparison with Davis’s Petra Lang. Ironically, Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Didon, if hardly an epitome of French style, came alive far more dramatically than on stage. There was now a proper sense of a woman scorned, of righteous fury. Bryan Hymel’s Enée, however, continues to lack not only correct, or even feasible, pronunciation, but also refulgence of tone. If only, Jonas Kaufmann had been fit to sing. At times, alas, Hymel sounded like a parody of Jon Vickers Perhaps others can more readily overlook the odd mispronunciations, also a characteristic of Fabio Capitanucci’s Chorèbe, but they surely ought at least to have difficulties with the strangulated tone and the crude, Verdi-like delivery. Vignettes were often well taken. Ji-Min Park’s Iopas was sung beautifully, if one could ignore the lack of ease with the language. And small though the part may be, Pamela Helen Stephen’s Hécube somehow managed blood-curdlingly to capture the attention, as she and others recoiled at the death of Laocoön.
Aside from the second act finale, when the women experienced slight intonational problems, the choral singing was excellent too. Not quite a match, perhaps for Davis’s London Symphony Chorus - is there a chorus anywhere that has sung more Berlioz? - but impressive nevertheless. As an introduction to Berlioz’s extraordinary opera, this could hardly have failed to impress. Even for those of us who have known Les Troyens for a while, it remained an inspiring, if in some respects flawed, experience. Both the Proms and the Royal Opera should be congratulated for their efforts in bringing the work to a wider audience.